The Future of Youth in Philanthropy

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The impact of young people on philanthropy is a topic of great discussion. We know from The Giving Report, as well as numerous other research papers, that young people are giving less in financial donations than older Canadians, and have different relationships to and expectations of charities than generations before. We also know that fewer Canadians are giving financially to charities, and the impact of this will be significant on the sector.

It’s easy to get depressed! However, what I am finding inspiring are the numerous youth-led initiatives around the world that are demonstrating young people’s commitment to social change. This group has expressed time and time again that they are dissatisfied with the status quo and they want to be part of the solution.

There are numerous examples of young people taking action just in the last year:

  • In Ontario, 18-year old Natalie Moore used social media to organize a massive (100,000 people) student walk-out in protest of the Ontario Government’s plan to increase school class sizes and cut education funding.
  • Across the world, students inspired by 16-year old Greta Thunberg of Sweden have been holding ‘Climate Strikes’ to protest government inaction on climate change.
  • In the US, students demonstrated under the moniker “March for our Lives” in response to yet another school shooting and in support of legislation to prevent gun violence.

These social change initiatives are exactly the types of issues charities in this country are also working to address, even if this overlap isn’t necessarily understood by those not familiar with charities’ work.

The United Nations considers youth to be aged 10 to 24, and this group makes up 1.8 billion of the world’s population (the largest youth population ever.) This generation`s voice has been amplified largely due to the fact that they are the first age group to grow up with the internet and not remember a time before the internet. Without their connectivity, we likely wouldn’t have seen the same sort of impact of these young leaders, or the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai who took her advocacy for young girls and women to an international level. The internet has taken a normally disenfranchised age group and given them networks, greater access to information and a worldwide megaphone.

We would be foolish to disregard this group in conversations about social change, in particular, because every charity in the sector right now is trying to address what is perceived as the “millennial problem”.  The problem represents the shifting attitudes of younger people, but also the broader threats as well as opportunities to charities enabled by technology, and the digital disruptions that have changed the ways that people interact (with each other, with businesses, and with institutional authority).  Consumers and donors now expect to interact with charities the same way they interact with all other organizations in their lives, setting the bar very high.

We know that sharing impact (what work has been achieved and how money was spent to further the cause) is essential for appealing to modern donors – 2016 CanadaHelps research found 73% of Canadian donors would be more likely to increase their giving if they had access to the charity’s impact results for the past year – and we know that sharing stories is critical, especially in the age of social media. The ability to use a story to effectively communicate a need and the direct impact of money in a way that people can relate to is one of the reasons peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding has been so successful in recent years.

We’ve also seen a stronger connection to causes and a move away from allegiances to specific charities doing the work. The increased reliance on peers as authorities and a move away from alliances to individual organizations also lends itself well to cause-based giving. This strong desire to give by cause is one of the reasons we recently launched Support a Cause on CanadaHelps. We want to help donors connect in the way that makes sense to them – by offering an easy way to support important causes like animal welfare, women’s health, humanitarian relief, or hunger – while also ensuring accountability and broader societal impact. I believe that the future giving will further shift toward causes.

It is important to fully appreciate the potential of young people. Although they are not giving much financially, they are far from being apathetic or disengaged. Young people are passionate about causes and changing the world, it just may not be in a way that aligns with our current paradigm. They will also continue to demand that their employers engage in doing social good, and as today’s young people become the dominant group in the workforce, we will see more businesses of all sizes step up to integrate community and philanthropy into their organizations. Whether we like it or not, the needs and outlook of youth will be dominating the future and demanding a different world of philanthropy. We must keep up.

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